No mere trend: Solo female travel is here to stay. Women around the world are getting out of their comfort zones to discover the challenges and rewards of planning and executing a trip all on their own. Solo travel encourages confidence, allows you the freedom to do exactly what you want on a trip without having to compromise, grants total immersion in a different environment and culture, and gives you the chance to connect with locals and other travelers.
Whether you’re looking to make new friends while on the road, spend all your time hiking through remote national parks, or eat your way through every restaurant and food stand in a new city, there are tons of options to choose from when it comes to selecting a solo travel destination that will fit your personality and trip goals. These offerings range from captivating landscapes to ancient cities to vibrant food scenes. So no matter what type of adventure you’re out to have, we’ve got you covered: These are the best solo female travel destinations for 2020.
1. For first-timers: Iceland
Some may say Iceland’s reign as the must-visit destination for solitude-loving adventurers and photographers is coming to an end with the demise of its low-cost airfare options. Well, if interest in Iceland is waning, that’s good news for solo travelers as there will be fewer crowds to contend with, and you’ll get all those amazing landscapes to yourself.
Solo travelers will find a great base camp in the capital city of Reykjavik, which, thanks to the boom, has blossomed into a truly cosmopolitan city full of both local and international dining options, diverse shopping, cultural diversions like museums and tours, and more. It’s also extremely walkable and easy to navigate solo.
From Reykjavik, it’s easy to branch out and explore nearby attractions like the Blue Lagoon and Black Sand Beach; in fact, many of southern Iceland’s most popular sites are within driving distance of the city. You can either choose to rent a car and explore on your own or take a group tour if you’d like to meet new people, especially during the high season months of June to August. But 2020 promises to be an especially good year for solo travel in Iceland because, in an effort to reduce crowds at overrun sites on the southern half of the island, Iceland’s tourism board has been improving infrastructure to promote more off-the-beaten destinations further afield like the Westfjords or the northern reaches of the country.
Furthermore, there’s no language barrier, with 99 percent of Icelanders speaking fluent English, and their friendly, open cultural attitudes make it easy to ask locals for help or advice. Plus, your tourism dollars will be supporting a country that ranks first in gender equality, having had female presidents, taken on the gender pay gap, and possessing a culture that is supportive of strong women — you won’t even get cat-called here.
The sole caveat would be to always be careful when venturing out into the landscapes alone; Iceland’s nature is beautiful but can be deadly due to extreme weather, so if you are off exploring on your own, check the weather, bring the right gear, and make sure someone knows where you’re going.
2. For the trailblazers: Saudi Arabia
For years, Saudi Arabia remained largely closed off from the outside world, accessible mainly to those undertaking the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca. But the kingdom is opening up to visitors, with the release late last year of a new tourist visa for 49 different countries, as well as relaxed dress rules for foreign women such as not requiring the use of an abaya (the traditional long, black dress that covers Saudi women’s body and hair). With traditional Arab hospitality fostering a culture of safety and respect, increased access for both foreign and Saudi women to travel at leisure, and the fact that some tour companies now hire female guides, Saudi Arabia is clearly taking steps to prove it’s a modern country for modern women, especially solo travelers.
As with many Middle Eastern destinations, Saudi Arabia’s past sits juxtaposed with its present, with ancient archeological sites a short drive from innovative, 21st-century hubs of technology and commerce. The capital of Ridyah is chock-full of historic buildings, like the Al Murabba Palace, but also modern skyscrapers, cutting-edge museums, and luxe shopping and dining, all accessed via the favored mode of transport: Uber.
The country is home to five different UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the spectacular Mada’in Saleh, a stone-carved palace made by the same empire that built Petra. You can pound the pavement in cities to visit classic markets, fortresses, and cafes (coffee culture is huge here) or head out into the desert on trekking expeditions to the Edge of the World, a prominent rock pinnacle overlooking the desert. Go to electronic music festivals, dive or swim in the warm waters of the Red Sea, stroll along the stylish Jeddah waterfront, view the spectacular architecture in Medina… really, the list goes on and on.
There is still some gender segregation that female visitors will have to deal with (like male-only pools or stores), and dressing modestly is encouraged, but overall, solo travelers who have visited since the visas became available have reported feeling safe, comfortable, and at ease. Still, do your research before going: Saudi Arabia’s human rights record is far from clean, so concerns about spending your time and money here are valid. But if you do decide to go, you’ll be among the first.
3. For the foodies: Mexico
Mexico is a thriving, vibrant, and welcoming destination for eager travelers looking to dive into a new culture, language, and lifestyle. Oh, and food.
Mexico City is one of the great foodie cities of the world, where you can have everything from Japanese food that’s on-par with what you would find in actual Japan to tacos so good they’ll give you an existential crisis. Some of the world’s most celebrated fine-dining restaurants call Mexico City home, but the street food here is also legendary. At night, you can hop between trendy mezcal bars and historic cantinas. Between all the eating, try to make time to walk the city’s many vibrant barrios, visiting local artisan shops, galleries, and world-class museums. Mexico City is renowned for attracting ex-pats, so you’re bound to meet people from all over, either passing through or who’ve lived here for ages.
Venturing further afield, Oaxaca is the home of that oh-so-hip-right-now tipple, mezcal. Around the state, you can visit the traditional palenques where the agave hearts are cooked and then ground down and mashed to ferment into mezcal. Oaxaca City is another big foodie destination, as well, and is famous for its street food and regional dishes like posole, mole, and chapulines (grasshoppers.) No matter where you go in Mexico, you’re bound to find some great eats.
4. For Mars on Earth: Jordan
Even amid ongoing conflicts in neighboring countries, Jordan’s staid safety and security, open and welcoming culture, friendly and helpful locals, hip city life, and out-of-this-world landscapes have made it a must in the solo travel world.
Sitting right at the point where Africa meets the Middle East, this multicultural country is home to some of the most amazing archeological finds on Earth, making it a must-visit for lovers of culture and history. Naturally, the most famous site is the ancient sandstone city of Petra. But there’s much more, like Bethany Beyond The Jordan, where it’s said Jesus Chris was baptized, or the ancient amphitheater and free-standing columns of Jerash. Urbanites will find much to enjoy in the capital of Amman, with museums, ancient architecture, and souk markets to visit during the day. Once the sun goes down the city’s nightlife scene takes over at flashy dance clubs or chill shisha bars. Amman is also a great place to experience Jordan’s delicious cuisine, such as falafel, kanafeh, and mansaf. From Amman, it’s also an easy day trip to the Dead Sea, where you can feel weightless floating on the heavily salted waters.
Outdoor and adventure travel has also taken off in Jordan in recent years thanks to its expansive deserts, red rock mountains, and meandering canyons. Solo hikers and backpackers are rapidly falling in love with the Jordan Trail, a multi-day backpacking trail spanning the entire country. It’s a popular route, so it’s easy to link up with a group or make new friends along the trail to travel with. Along its 400 miles, you see and experience the best of Jordan, including Petra, the Martian-esque landscapes of Wadi Rum, and the sparkling shores of the Red Sea. Along the trail, you can also learn about traditional Bedouin culture by visiting or even staying at one of their camps.
As a country with liberal attitudes toward women’s rights, female solo travel here is on the ups, making it easy to get around on your own or to join a group. Solo travel reviews of Jordan couldn’t be more glowing.
5. For nature-lovers: Chile
Chile has climbed the charts in recent years to become a top destination, and now, at the height of its boom, it’s fully ready to embrace solo travelers. Getting around the country by bus, low-budget airline, or car has never been easier. Hostels and hotels up and down the country are stuffed with international visitors. Although most Chileans outside of Santiago or major tourist towns don’t speak much English, they are extremely friendly people who are always eager to offer advice or aid.
And that’s just the logistics. Then there’s what to do. If you’re visiting in summer, there’s trekking or hiking among the mountains and glaciers of Patagonia, rafting past volcanoes in the Lakes District, wandering the colorful streets of the seaside city of Valparaiso, wine-tasting in Casablanca, and stargazing in the Atacama Desert. In winter, there’s world-class skiing or snowboarding outside the capital city of Santiago, which is coming into its own as a cosmopolitan hub, with a vibrant foodie scene, fun and quirky neighborhoods, and excellent cultural attractions like historic buildings and museums. Chile is also one of the best places to get to Easter Island, where you can visit the world-famous Moai statues, hike up volcanoes, try traditional foods, and watch local dances.
6. For the ‘gram: Morocco
Fashionistas, design lovers, and aspiring influencers take note: Morocco — with its multicultural European, Arabian, and Berber influences; splendid cities of maze-like markets and elegant architecture; and picturesque backcountry — should take top priority for your next solo travel adventure. Morocco is one of Africa’s safest destinations, and the only thing solo travelers should be aware of is dressing conservatively in this largely Muslim country. Morocco is also really easy to navigate thanks to an extensive public transit system.
As Africa’s first-ever City of Culture, Marrakech is a great jumping-off point, packed with museums, galleries, and shops. Two must-visits are the calming Majorelle Gardens, populated with unique plant life and a beautiful Art Deco house, and the chic museum honoring designer Yves Saint Laurent who lived in Marrakech for a number of years. Shoppers will have a field day in the famous medina, a teeming marketplace stocked with everything from colorful piles of spices to opulent rugs. The city of Fez is also famed for its medina, and the varied architecture of cities like Casablanca, Tangier, and Chefchaouen (a city of entirely blue buildings) makes them perfect for exploring and photoshoots.
As fabulous as Morocco’s cities are, it’s well worth getting out of town to explore the country’s deserts and mountains, like camel-riding to the golden dunes of Erg Chigaga. The rugged Atlas Mountains are especially great for trekking and hiking, and the summit of Mount Toubkal, Africa’s highest peak, is easily achievable. And there’s no better guide to help you navigate the mountains than Hafida Hdoubane. In 1994, she became Morocco’s first female mountain guide and now leads trekking tours both for international tour operators like Wild Women Expeditions and with her own tour company. She also provides access to traditional Berber villages in the region, acting as an interpreter so her clients can learn more about the indigenous Berber culture and way of life. And now, the example Hdoubane has set is opening the doors for more women to become guides as well.
7. For a good time: South Korea
With modern infrastructure, efficient public transportation, delicious cuisine, and stunning landscapes, South Korea ranks high on many travelers’ bucket lists. But if you like to party, Seoul needs to be the city you visit this year. This modern city of nearly 10 million is a nightlife hotspot — and not just at traditional nightclubs. There are late-night bars and lounges like The Library, where you can sit back and relax with a book and a good drink until the wee hours, and plenty of LGBTQ-friendly spots. The late-night Dongdaemun night market is also a popular stop, especially for some delicious street eats. But Seoul shines during the day, as well, with ancient palaces like Gyeongbokgung, temples, markets, skyscrapers, and hip restaurants and bars. And, if you’re a K-Pop fan, you’ll be able to indulge your passion at shows, visiting the SMTOWN Museum, and mastering K-Pop dance moves at specialized lessons.
Getting outside the city with the aid of cheap and efficient public transport via buses or the high-speed railway, you can explore the surrounding countryside, like the tranquil Boseong green tea fields, or Jeju, a volcanic island paradise of sandy beaches, waterfalls, and cherry blossoms that’s known as the Hawaii of South Korea. You can hike to the top of forest-shrouded peaks in Bukhansan National Park, chow down on traditional bibimbap in Jeonju, and learn more about Korean history by visiting the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea.
As a country with a strong sense of respect and community, it’s also super easy to make friends with Koreans as a solo traveler. A growing ex-pat scene, largely made up of English teachers, means it’s also easy to meet people from around the world. English is widely spoken, so it can be easy to interact with the locals. It’s also overall more affordable than many other countries in the region.
8. For disconnecting: Cuba
There’s a lot of misinformation surrounding US travel to Cuba, but the good news is that, yes, you can easily travel to Cuba with a US passport, and even take a direct flight from select cities — it’s no longer necessary to go through Mexico or Canada. But all that confusion may be to your advantage, as you can discover this rising solo travel star before the hordes do.
You’ve likely heard about Havana’s notorious, rum-fueled party scene, and it doesn’t disappoint, with lively bars, art galleries, and salsa dancing clubs going until the late hours. During the day, either stroll or take a vintage car to view the many historic buildings or districts like the UNESCO-certified Old Havana, visit the Malecon sea wall, browse local stores and artisan shops, and tour a cigar factory.
With taxis readily available in the cities and bus service throughout the island, it’s also easy and cheap to get around and explore spots further afield like the beach at Playa de Estes, Bellamar Caves, colorful houses of Trinidad, and verdant mountains and forests of the Vinales. In rural parts of the island, you’ll find more natural areas for outdoor sports like hiking, boating, and wildlife spotting. And Cuba’s foodie scene is rapidly growing, with hearty, flavorful dishes like ropa vieja served at small paladares (Cuban private restaurants) and street food carts.
If you’re looking to disconnect, Cuba is also a great option as the WiFi is state-controlled and so not always readily available; this means you’ll need to do your research on activities or where to go in advance or, better yet, ask the locals. Another perk for solo female travelers is the chance to stay in a casa particular, where local families rent out spare rooms in their home, allowing guests to stay in a traditional Cuban house and partake of their food and traditions but also get to know other travelers staying with them.
9. For going the distance: New Zealand
If you’re the adventurous type who wants to spend their solo travel venture immersed in spectacular, rugged landscapes ranging from mountains to fjords to lakes, New Zealand is the place for you. Thanks to an abundance of varied environments, this small island country has an outsized reputation for adventure travel and outdoor sports, from basics like hiking to going ice-caving inside glaciers.
Culture and leisure lovers will also find much to their fancy. In towns like Rotorua, you can learn about and immerse yourself in the Maori culture, watch performances, try traditional foods, and visit artist workshops to observe carving and weaving demonstrations. In cities like Wellington, Auckland, and Queenstown, there are burgeoning foodie scenes celebrating native ingredients and cuisines. In the country’s famous wine regions, you can cycle between vineyards to taste the island’s best varietals like pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. And, of course, there are over 9,300 miles of coastline, with lovely beaches like the famous Ninety Mile Beach for stunning, swimming, or surfing.
From a logistical standpoint, New Zealand is also really easy to get around, especially if you’re the kind of person who likes planning an itinerary in advance. Although most cities and towns have public transport, renting a car to get out in the countryside offers the best ease of access.